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Opening space for discussion during the 2023 film series

Posted: April 25 2023 at 01:58 PM
Author: Lisa Smith, NIC Communications Specialist


Nic 2023 Film Series Logo

The Anti-Racism Task Force kicked off its 2023 Film Series at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie on March 25. This first event aimed to help participants better understand the media’s role in portraying people of color in ways that sometimes contribute to negative stereotypes and perpetuate a “white savior” narrative.

Participants first took a docent-led tour of The Negro Motorist Green Book exhibit, held at the Holocaust Museum, and was followed by lunch, a presentation, and a panel discussion. Online participants joined the presentation and panel discussion.

Exhibit 1st Q Film Series

Participants on the docent-led tour of The Negro Motorist Green Book exhibit.

The exhibit is based on the guidebook of the same name, prepared for African American travelers. Many black Americans took to driving, in part to avoid segregation on public transportation. Victor Hugo Green, an African American New York City mail carrier, published the book from 1936 to 1966. African Americans could not assume that every town would offer them service at restaurants or hotels or that police would not arrest them just because of the color of their skin.

Developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in collaboration with Candacy Taylor, The Negro Motorist Green Book exhibit offers an immersive look at the historic reality of travel for Black Americans and how the guide served as an indispensable resource for the rise of the Black leisure class in the United States. The exhibition included artifacts, from business signs and postcards to historic footage, images, and firsthand accounts that illustrate not just the apprehension felt by Black travelers, but also the resilience, innovation, and elegance of people choosing to live a full American existence.

After the tour and lunch, Dr. Richard Guzman, professor emeritus at North Central College and consultant for the Anti-Racism Task Force, spoke about the representation of Blacks in film as well as the contrast between The Negro Motorist Green Book exhibit and the 2019 movie Green Book. “The Green Book is another film where black life and history are seen through white eyes,” Guzman noted. “There is almost no relationship between the film and the history that the exhibit showed us.” Guzman also discussed clips from different movies, including The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, and The Littlest Rebel, and excerpts from the Turner Classic Movies series “Race and Hollywood: Black Images on Film” and PBS’s “American Experience.”

Panelists then offered their thoughts on Black representation in film and the exhibit. “When you see a film, it reflects society's values, images, and perspectives,” Dr. Larry Murphy, professor emeritus at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, reflected. “How can we revise those images and expectations that you hold of me if they are not in sync with the reality of who I am?”

Typical characteristics of “white savior” films were shared by Dann Gire, founding director of the Chicago Film Critics Association. Rev. Tennille Power, pastor of Hazel Crest Community United Methodist Church, reflected on how Black actors are honored for the films in which they play typical Black roles, not when they play characters in powerful positions.

Lunch At 1st Q Film Series

Lunch and discussion was enjoyed with desserts provided by YoFresh Cafe.

YoFresh Café provided participants with a sampling of desserts historically associated with African American culture. The café, located in Evanston, was created by panelist Dr. Larry Murphy and his wife, Dr. Jean Murphy, as a place where they hoped to contribute to the community by providing an inviting communal space that offered delicious, healthy food options.

The goal of the film series is to help participants “go deeper” in their understanding and actions related to the harm done by racism. The series will continue with one event per quarter, using films to focus on various aspects of race and ethnicity in America. At host centers around the conference, small groups will discuss what they viewed in the film and what they heard from the presenter and panelists. They’ll also sample the food and culture of the people featured that
quarter.

The second quarter event, on the rich history and culture of the multitude of Asian communities, will take place on May 25. Several churches and North Central College will host the meal and
discussion, and project the presentation (over Zoom) by the primary speaker and the panelists. Dr. Wonhee Anne Joh, a professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, will be the presenter. The panelists include Rev. Rose Marie Calderon-Khan, Rev. Scort Christy, and Rev. Heewon Kim. Before the gathering, participants should watch the documentary Being Asian in America, by Pew Research Center. The documentary draws on 66 focus groups conducted in the fall of 2021, in which Asian Americans described navigating their own identity in a nation where the label “Asian” brings expectations about their origins, behavior, and physical self. Find out more information about the event, including the participating locations, here.

Recording of the first quarter presentation and discussion

Information about the Film Series

Information on the Second Quarter Event

The organizers also welcome inquiries from churches that are interested in serving as host sites. Contact Tim Alexander at tim@osumc.org if you have questions.

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